TRACTION: Transnational Labour Constitutionalism: Strategic Litigation and the Constitutional Protection of Work

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Law


Labour movements in Europe are threatened by the hollowing-out of labour regulations, the absence of substantive social rights protections, the elevation of capital's logic of profit maximisation into all spheres of decision-making, and increased restrictions on trade union organising that leaves limited space for genuine democratic engagement and political participation. In this void of democratic representation and in response to real social challenges civil society groups, and labour movements in particular, have mobilised legal and political resources at the national and transnational level. TRACTION aims to comprehend the ways that European labour movements have engaged in transnational strategic litigation and its potential effectiveness as a tool of socio-political struggle. As the first comprehensive study of supranational legal mobilisation strategies by European labour movements, this project will provide original outputs from which academics, trade unionists and labour movement practitioners can comprehend and contribute to an ongoing discussion about effective strategies. Furthermore, TRACTION contributes to urgent debates about the relationship between citizens, national legal systems, and global political and legal institutions. Focusing on the mobilisation of transnational law, TRACTION describes and evaluates the innovative mechanisms through which civil society groups might express democratic demands and implement social justice claims.

The development of transnational labour law regimes (in the EU, CoE, and ILO) presents a constellation of labour standards, jurisprudence, complaint procedures, and enforcement mechanisms. The transnational nature of the norms produced by public international law institutions begs key questions about the scope and potential for the integration of labour law standards and jurisprudence across borders. TRACTION's challenge is to map the strategic opportunities and limitations presented by transnational labour law regimes.

TRACTION responds to a significant gap in contemporary socio-legal studies and labour law scholarship by identifying the interdisciplinary opportunity to apply socio-legal analytic tools to doctrinal analysis of transnational labour law. To develop understanding of transnational litigation's potential effectiveness, it is necessary to draw on legal mobilisation studies' insights about the extra-legal factors that shape litigation strategies (including social, political, and economic factors) and the potentially productive relation between litigation and political mobilisation. Critically, TRACTION will engage with labour lawyers and trade unionists to analyse practitioner perspectives on the strategic rationale and opportunities/limitations of strategic litigation at the transnational level.

Post-Brexit, British trade unions will have to re-evaluate the role and effects of transnational labour law standards and jurisprudence. Brexit will not foreclose the opportunities presented by postnational legal pluralism but the role of supranational courts will change. In this space, TRACTION will analyse new ways of approaching public international legal institutions strategically and evaluate the continued effectiveness of European labour law regimes for British trade unions.

TRACTION is concerned with the constitutional implications of European trade unions using trans/national strategic litigation as a mechanism for confronting social, political, and economic injustices experienced by contemporary labour. While the constitutional protection of labour ought to guarantee democratic structures that give workers a voice and mechanisms of redress, the use of strategic litigation indicates an absence of responsive political representation structures. TRACTION will evaluate the extent to which transnational labour regimes provide effective mechanisms capable of channelling political and legal demands about the constitutional protection of work.


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